The Vermont Department of Children and Families is supposed to protect kids from abuse. So, what happens when one of their own crosses the line?
"This is a very sad and horrible shock," said Dave Yacovone, the commissioner of the Vt. Department of Children and Families.
Yacovone says one of his social workers is accused of sexually assaulting a 9-year-old girl under his supervision. The child moved to Maine and police say Jeffrey Parfitt, 26, of Middlebury, inappropriately examined her during a follow-up visit at her new home. Parfitt was indicted Wednesday for unlawful sexual contact.
"We went back 35 years to the creation of the department; this has never happened before," Yacovone said.
DCF admits had this child and parent not come forward, it's likely Parfitt's alleged illegal behavior would have gone undetected.
"That's what scares us," Yacovone said. "That's what scares everybody about the nature of this work."
Yacovone says there are roughly 1,000 kids in DCF custody, hundreds more under supervision. The department gets one allegation of abuse every 30 minutes and there are only 150 social workers to investigate these accusations.
DCF says it's faced its share of fiscal challenges, but since 2010 has been able to hire 27 additional social workers to handle rising caseloads. Parfitt was hired in the winter of 2011.
"We do our best to screen people and to watch people and to supervise people, but if someone's heart is damaged or they're ill, there's probably little any of us can do," Yacovone said.
Yacovone believes there are enough safeguards in place to protect kids and says this one incident-- though tragic-- will not change the way DCF does business.
"No state, at least speaking for Vermont, would have ever had the capacity to double our staff and make sure that every interview is done with two staff instead of one," Yacovone said.
During his year and a half tenure, Parfitt's caseload included 18 children. DCF has met with each of them and says so far, the incident in Maine appears to be the only sign of abuse.
Still, Yacovone worries this case will cause Vermonters to lose confidence in the system.
"The vast majority of our staff do extraordinary work. We can count on them," he said. "Don't let one tragic incident damage the credibility of 150 social workers out there who do great work."
Yacovone could not comment on Parfitt's employment record, but said his background check did not raise any red flags. Parfitt has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of this investigation.
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